The AFC Champion New England Patriots
For the fifth time in the Tom Brady Era of New England Patriot football, the Pats will be playing in the Super Bowl. Thanks to Baltimore Raven’s kicker Billy Cundiff, Patriot hopefuls didn’t have to wait and see if Tom Brady could add to his epic total of game winning drives in overtime, as he missed a 32 yard field goal attempt that would have likely sent the game into overtime.
No matter, the AFC Championship game is over and done with, and as the players are so fond of saying, everyone is 0-0 in the playoffs.
While Tom Brady is still under center and Coach Bill Belichick is still roaming the sidelines, this Patriots team looks much different from the team that won three Super Bowls in four years this past decade.
For one, the defense just isn’t what it used to be. Tedy Bruschi, Richard Seymour, Mike Vrabel and the like have all moved on to other teams or sports networks. These days it is a collection of young guns such as Jerod Mayo and Kyle Arrington mixed with veterans nearing the end like Andre Carter and Mark Anderson (both of whom lead the team with 10 sacks).
Defense Wins Championships?
The overused term “Defense Wins Championships” has been repeated over and over throughout the years. When taking the entire 2011 season into account, on paper at least, one would surmise that if this is indeed the case, New England will not be winning any championships. Tell that to the guys who keep making clutch play after clutch play, though. Opponents passed for 294 yards per game against the New England secondary, but Kyle Arrington led the NFL in interceptions with seven. Opposing running backs averaged 4.6 yards per carry against the Patriot front seven, but teams had just 405 rushing attempts compared to 619 passing attempts against them, largely because Tom Brady and the offense forced opponents to play from behind more often than not.
Anyone who knows anything about football will tell you that it is a lot easier to average 4.6 yards per attempt against six or seven men in the box. No matter how bad it looks when you see, “New England Patriots, 31st ranked NFL Defense”, these players don’t seem to care. It has shown in their two playoff wins. They held the Broncos to ten points, the same Broncos who rushed for nearly 200 yards against them in the 1st QUARTER earlier this season. They shut down Ray Rice, the heart of Baltimore’s offense, limiting him to 78 yards on the ground. They forced turnovers in big situations all year, totaling 34 on the season.
If there is one thing we can take away from this defense, it is that they don’t have to be good enough to win championships all year, they just have to be good enough to win championships in the playoffs. They have proven they have that capability.
The unit that gets all the attention around Foxboro is the Patriots’ offense. Tom Brady, coming off of his NFL record tying 16th postseason victory, will look to add to his legacy with a 4th Super Bowl ring. Ironically, the last time Brady played in the Super Bowl was against Eli Manning and the New York Giants, his foe next week.
We all know the story. One win away from a perfect season, Eli and the Giants played the role of spoiler, pulling off one of the biggest upsets in Super Bowl History. The Giants won the game 17-14, ending the Pats’ perfect season with a painful blemish. Brady hasn’t been back to the Super Bowl since. There are few quarterbacks more adept at winning football games in crunch-time, though. Brady has six career playoff game winning drives. Each of the four Super Bowls that he has played in have been decided by three points. He has come out on top of three of those four. Tom Brady knows how to win big games, and Super Bowl XLVI will be no exception.
The weapons Tom Brady has at his disposal may even rival that of the 2007 team that featured Randy Moss. Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez have combined to become the best tight end combo in NFL history. With over 2,200 yards receiving and 24 touchdowns between them, they have revolutionized the Patriots’ passing attack. Aaron Hernandez is used in an H-back type of role. The Patriots move him all over the field. He can be found lining up wide, as a traditional tight end, or even at running back in shotgun formations. Gronkowski is usually most effective in the slot. He is simply massive for a tight end; too big for safeties and nickel corners to cover and too fast for linebackers to cover. When opponents double cover him, Aaron Hernandez is left in single coverage, usually against a linebacker who gets brutalized.
When the Patriots aren’t up to their tight-end-games, you can find Tom Brady throwing to his veteran receivers, Wes Welker and Deion Branch. Welker gives the Patriot offense the ability to stretch the field with his speed and quickness. If safeties cheat too much while trying to account for Gronkowski or Hernandez, Welker can burn them deep.
Deion Branch is the prototypical veteran possession receiver. His football IQ is off the charts and he always runs routes with precision. (Pay attention, Ochocinco. This is how you prolong a career as a wide receiver). Branch was a part of the Patriots’ ’03 and ‘04 Super Bowl teams, so his rapport with Tom Brady should not be understated. They have been playing catch for a long time, and he turned in an impressive season with 51 catches for 702 yards at 32 years of age.
The Patriots also have running backs on their team, although much like the defense, you never hear about them. Benjarvis Green-Ellis, or “The Law Firm”, as he is affectionately referred to, is the main man in the Patriot backfield. What most don’t know about the Patriots’ offense is that they finished the regular season with the most rushing touchdowns in the AFC with 18. Green-Ellis accounted for 11 of those touchdowns. The Patriots use a running back-by-committee approach with Green-Ellis, Stevan Ridley, and Danny Woodhead. The trio combined for 1,459 yards in the regular season, which is actually great production from the running back position for a team that operates out of the shotgun for more than half of their snaps.
Get It Done
The New England Patriots have done a fabulous job of putting a talented team around their future Hall Of Fame quarterback to compete for a Super Bowl. The defense is getting hot at the right time, and they have all the tools offensively a quarterback could ask for. As Tom Brady well knows, though, it all means nothing unless they execute on February 5th. The New York Giants have a Super Bowl MVP of their own in Eli Manning, and they will in no way be intimidated by the Patriots.
Tom Brady has a chance to seal his legacy in this game, and he knows it. The potential ramifications of another Super Bowl loss to Eli Manning could be devastating to his reputation. You can just hear the “Is Eli Manning better than Tom Brady?” stories on ESPN already.
While he would never admit it, Brady knows it. He is a competitor, and the last time he held the title of Super Bowl Champion was eight years ago. You can forget last week’s poor performance against the Baltimore Ravens. I can guarantee you that Tom Brady already has.
Patriots 26- Giants 23